It’s not specifically Yowamushi-related, but on the topic of sports anime the big news is that the Kuroko no Basuke terrorist appears to have finally been caught, as he was about to send another batch of threat letters in Osaka. It’s an embarrassment to the authorities that this has gone on for as long as it has, and that so many have caved to this whack-job’s demands and pulled Kurobas merchandise (including Comiket). This is all still alleged, of course, but the suspect has apparently confessed, and said he’d never even met the mangaka – jealousy was his motive. I’m not the world’s biggest Kurobas fan but it’s surely done nothing to deserve this kind of controversy, and I hope this is finally behind us once and for all.
Meanwhile, the series that hopes to follow the Kurobas commercial model, Yowamushi Pedal, continues to be a shining example of how to do a sports anime right. You can add note-perfect exposition to the many strengths of this show. A long-running anime can be like painting a picture, starting with a blank canvas and slowly filling in the background, then details, then coloring. The trick of course is to do so at the right speed to keep the audience hooked in but not exhausted, and the balance is spot-on here. Most of the credit goes to the manga of course, but the anime always seems to stop at the perfect moment to build up the next episode and every ep has done a little more to establish the story and characters – adding both depth and breadth with impressive clarity and narrative drive.
This was definitely an ep that was all about establishing themes that are going to be important as the series progresses. First off, just how tough the third-years are. This is obviously important for many reasons, but a lot of it boils down to what Harada-sensei said about Karuta – “A team match is an individual match, and an individual match is a team match”. The same is surely true for cycling, which is much more a team sport than most casual fans realize. The job of the first-years is mostly going to be to support the seniors and help Souhoku win at the Inter-highs, but these boys want to win – for Imaizumi and Naruko (and even Onoda, though he barely realizes it) the third-years are not just mentors and team leaders but also a “wall”. They don’t want to wait their turn, and the third-years are in their way. But in cycling, you always defer to the team leader – which has led to some spectacular infighting among the major cycling teams over the years.
Another thing this episode set about establishing is just how competitive Naruko and Imaizumi are. We’ve seen it already of course, but watching them go head-to-head with the seniors is illustrative. Naruko is a little bulldog, plain and simple – as Tadokoro says he simply hates to lose, which can be one of the most important traits for a successful athlete. In this he and Imaizumi are alike – and in more than this, in fact. They once again mirror each other’s habits and step on each other’s lines here, but admitting how alike they are is the last thing either of them will do. If they hate the thought of losing to the sempai, they absolutely deplore the notion of losing to each other.
Those sempai are indeed very, very good – so much so in fact that Kinjou doesn’t even tell the first-years about the inter-high preliminaries so as to avoid giving anyone who might be scouting them out any insights as to the true depth of the squad. Only Imaizumi – the leader among the rookies – gets the information, but he decides to share it with the others and predictably, they speed to Mukahari to watch (Suginami – ever timid when the chips are down – stays behind rather than cut class). And what they see is a three-man squad that toys with the competition, marshalling their strength in third place before making their move on the 9th of 10 laps (perhaps a little sooner than they otherwise might, their competitive fires – especially Todokoro’s – stoked by seeing the grommets in the crowd).
The third-years’ devastating move to the front of the pack is a fine example of competitive cycling tactics, as they unleash “the human bullet train“. Drafting is a huge part of cycling, especially on flats, and while Todokoro’s build is certainly odd for a sprinter, it’s that combination which makes him an ideal leadout rider (he blocks a helluva lot of wind and he’s fast in a straight line). Watch any road race and you’ll see that the leadout train is a huge part of the competitive equation, and Kinjou certainly seems to be proved right in his calculations, as the three third-years are more than enough to win the preliminaries and qualify for the inter-highs on their own. As for the first-years, Kinjou promises they’ll be “unleashed at the inter-highs” and invites them on an overnight trip to help build their strength for the occasion. This certainly seems to imply that Onoda will be a part of that squad after all, but it’s hardly surprising – if he can help the team (and you can bet Makishima wants him there if there are any climbs on the course), it would be irresponsible on Kinjou’s part for him not to be included.
Lastly, this episode continues to establish the breadth of the story and cast. We briefly met a few of the members of the Hakone High team last week – a powerhouse that seems destined to be the friendly rivals for Souhoku. And in addition to a world-class Matsuge-kun for the fujoshi they have a first-year named Manami Sangoku (Yonaga Tsubasa), seemingly a puckish and good-natured freak talent who may just be the eternal rival for our first-years. And we finally get a glimpse of that other team from the OP/ED, and they may just be setting up as true villains – they’re certainly a strange bunch. As I suspected from the ED they’re based in Kyoto, and their captain is Midousuji Akira (Yuusa Kouji), the strangest of the bunch who finds Souhoku “disgusting” for being what his scout tells him is a three-man team.
And as for Imaizumi, it seems he’s now hooked on “Love, Hime”.